3. Taming the tongue, 3:1-4:12

iv] Humility and slander


With a further two instructions related to the tongue, James first encourages his readers to foster a humble approach to God, and then goes on to warn against slandering and judging others.


i] Context: See 3:1-12. Cargal, Discursive Structure and Purpose in the Epistle of James, suggests that the instruction not to slander a brother, v11, and the instruction to restore a sinner, 5:19, forms an inclusio. These notes follow Davids and Moo who think that this passage rounds up the major section dealing with community conflict, particularly with respect to speech, 3:1-4:12.


ii] Background: 1:1.


iii] Structure: Taming the tongue 4:


Repentance is the way to cleanse an evil tongue.


#10: "humble yourselves before the Lord", v7-10;

#11: the evil of defamation, v11-12


iv] Interpretation:

In dealing with the problem of selfish desires, v1-6, James has quoted Proverbs 3:34, "God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble." There is a sense where James now applies the quote with a series of imperatives: submit to God; resist the devil; draw near to God; address attitudes and actions; be sorrowful for sin, v7-10. The next instruction, v11-12, seems unrelated to the proceeding versers, although Mitton suggests that the defamation and censure of others implies pride in oneself, and it is this idea which links the instruction to humble oneself before God to the instruction not to slander another.

Vlachos views the series of imperatives under the head of submission to God. He views this submission in three parts:

• resisting temptation and cultivating a relationship with God, 7b-8a;

• changing action and attitudes, v8b-c;

• heartfelt sorrow and repentance, v9."


Greek: The inferential ουν, "therefore", in v7 indicates that we are moving from exposition to exhortation. The exhortation is shaped by 10 imperatives.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 4:7

Instruction #10: "Humble yourselves before the Lord" - submission to God, v7-10. In verse six, quoting from Proverbs 3:34, James underlines the point that God "gives grace to the humble." In the following verses James exposes the substance of humility in a series of imperatives, instructions that lead to divine grace and favor. In the verse before us, James calls on his readers to submit themselves to God and to resist the devil. Rather than submitting to the authority of a world corrupted by sin, James calls on his readers to submit to the authority of God; to stand firm against temptations and allow God to work his will through the indwelling Spirit of Christ.

James, from his Wisdom perspective, indicates that the reward due submission to these moral imperatives is "more grace" - an overflowing of God's kindness, cf., v6. The issue of reward always raises a red flag, given that being eternally right before God is a gift of divine grace appropriated through faith in the faithfulness of Jesus, and this not of works lest anyone should boast. Yet, James is simply applying the principle of Wisdom, namely that right follows the right acts of the righteous, if not here, certainly there, cf., Introduction, The Issue of Reward.

ουν "then" - therefore - drawing a logical conclusion from Proverbs 3:34 quoted in v6. "So then, accept the authority of God", Barclay.

τῳ θεῳ [ος] dat. "God" - [be subject to] god. Dative of direct object after the ὑπο prefix verb "to be subject to." "Let God work his will in you", Peterson.

δε "-" - but/and. Transitional. Usually treated as an untranslated connective, although Vlachos suggests that it heads the series of imperatives connected by και, "and". This can be expressed with a colon, that is to say; "Submit therefore to God: resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, ...." Weymouth. This probably places too much weight on a simple connective conjunction. The person who is humble and thus is the recipient of divine grace , v6, must necessarily submit to God, resist the devil, etc.

τω διαβολῳ [ος] dat. "the devil" - [oppose, resist] the devil. Dative of direct object after the αντι prefix verb "to resist." The devil, the one to be resisted, is "the quintessential architect and archetype of pride. It is the devil who fosters jealousy and ambition, offers a false wisdom and a false faith, and brews a broth of discord and contention and murderous envy to sap the church's vitality and undermine its integrity", McCartney. "Stand firm against temptation."

αφ [απο] + gen. "from" - [and he will flee] from [you]. Expressing separation; "away from."


Another aspect of humility is found in the way we relate to God in Christ. "The Christian is invited, as a child in God's family, to draw near to God, to draw strength and comfort from the sense of his nearness. And if we come to God, we shall never be turned away (cf. John 6:37). Rather, God will draw near to us", Mitton. James notes a further aspect of humility, namely, a willingness to purify our actions and attitudes; he is calling for purity in both outward deeds and inward disposition.

τῳ θεῳ [ος] dat. "[come near to] God" - [draw near to] god. Dative of direct object after the verb "to draw near to" which takes a dative of persons. It does seem that drawing near to God is relational; "The Christian is invited, as a child in God's family, to draw near to God, to draw strength and comfort from the sense of his nearness. And if we come to God, we shall never be turned away (cf. John 6:37). Rather God will draw near to us", Mitton. Some commentators think that worship / adoration may be in James' mind, so Davids, or a repentant approach to God, so Moo, or an expression of practical ethics, so Blomberg.

και "and" - The construction here, imp. + και + fut. = a conditional clause (reflecting Semitic influence); "if you come close to God he will come close to you", so Davids.

ὑμιν dat. pro. "you" - [he will draw near to] you. Dative of direct object, as above. James is expressing typical rabbinic teaching; God goes out to those who approach him. Of course, the other side of the coin is that "God loves both more than you love, and before you love at all", St. Bernard.

ἁμαρτωλοι voc. adj. "you sinners" - [cleanse your hands] sinners [and sanctify your hearts, duplicitous ones]. Both "sinners" and "double-minded, duplicitous, waverers" are vocative, as NIV. A call for changed actions and attitudes seems likely, "external change ... and internal clean up", Baker - a call for spiritual and moral cleansing, so Adamson; of outward deeds and inward disposition. So, we have here a call to purity, "for right deed and right commitment: pure hands would do good works and pure hearts would be totally committed", Davids.


A final aspect of humility, noted by James, is that of heartfelt sorrow, a repentant heart. James is speaking of a deep awareness of sinfulness. This attitude should be added to the other imperative James has outlined: submitting to God, standing against temptation, enhancing ones relationship with God in Christ, and striving to act morally both in action and thought. A believer is broken before God, and can only be otherwise in Christ.

Some commentators argue that all five qualities listed above are but aspects of repentance, and that repentance is the substance of humility, a humility which leads to grace. The language employed here reflects OT use, of a call to people suffering judgment, and thus serves "to call God's people to repentance from sin", Moo, cf., Isa.15:2, Jer.4:13, Hos.10:5, Joel 1:9-10, Mic.2:4.

ταλαιπωρησατε [ταλαιπωρεω] aor. imp. "Grieve, [mourn and wail]" - lament [and mourn and weep]. These three words reflect "a heartfelt sorrow for sin that is the mark of true repentance", Moo; "godly sorrow", 2Cor.7:10. "Go ahead and be miserable! Go into mourning! Cry your eyes out! Turn your laughter into mourning and your happiness into a burden of sadness, as evidence that you, at least, have come to terms with your wretched spiritual condition!", Junkins.

μετατραπητω [μετατρεπω] aor. pas. imp. "change" - let be changed. Rather than kill-joy-Christianity, James continues to reflect the need for a repentant attitude toward God, rather than self-sufficient complacency. His words reflect Jesus' beatitudes, cf., Lk.6:20-26. A sense of self-sufficient complacency, of eat drink and be merry in a world facing judgment, is to find oneself in a state of "woe". To be "blessed are you" is to be broken before the Lord, humbled, repentant.

ὑμων gen. "your [laughter]" - [the laughter] of you [into morning]. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, subjective, "you laugh", Adam, but adjectival, possessive, is also appropriate.

εις + acc. "into [gloom]" - [and the joy of you] into [gloom]. Here the preposition serves to indicated a change in state, BDAG 290.4b.


In verse 6 James states that God "gives grace to the humble." Having defined the substance of humility, namely submission to God, resisting temptation, intimacy with God, changed actions and attitudes, and heartfelt sorrow / repentance, James now calls on his readers to humble themselves before God.

ταπεινωθητε [ταπεινοω] aor. pas. imp. "humble yourselves" - become humble. Best expressed as a reflective in English, as NIV. As above the imp. + και + fut. can be read as a conditional clause (Semitic); "if you humble yourselves before the Lord he will exalt you." Self-humbling / repentance will eventuate in God's lifting up / exalting of the sinner.

ενωπιον + gen. "before" - Spacial, in a metaphorical sense; "in the presence of the Lord", NASB.

κυιου [ος] "the Lord" - the lord [and he will exalt you. The definite article του should be read.


Instruction #11: The evil of defamation and censure, v11-12. Moving from the subject of humility, James has something to say on defamation and censure. Speaking evil against someone, in the sense of slandering them, or judging them, in the sense of expressing a judgement about them, maligning them, shows a total disregard for God's revealed word, particularly the royal law of love. When we express a judgment about another person we usurp the role of God; he is the ultimate lawgiver and judge, both with the power to save and to destroy. It is not our place to meddle in the destiny of others.

αλληλων gen. "[do not slander] one another" - [brothers, do not speak evil of] one another. Genitive of direct object after the κατα prefix verb "to speak evil of, speak against." The word can cover all forms of harmful speech: questioning legitimate authority, slander, unfair accusations, .... "Do not slander one another."

ὁ καταλαλων [καταλαλεω] pres. part. "anyone who speaks against" - the one speaking evil of [a brother]. The participle serves as a substantive. Again, "speaks against" in the terms of "slander"; "the one who slanders their brother or sister."

κρινων [κρινω] pres. part. "[or] judges [them]" - [or] the one judging [the brother of him]. The participle serves as a substantive. The word "judge" here is probably being used in the sense of "express a judgment about", so "malign", Berkeley, "disparage", Barclay; "anyone who slanders their brother or sister, or maligns them."

νομου [ος] gen. "[speaks against] the law" - [speaks evil of] law [and judges the law]. Genitive of direct object after the κατα prefix verb "to speak evil of, against." To "speak evil of" the law and "judge" the law is going to carry a different sense to when we act this way toward a person. If we malign a brother or sister it's as if we are doing it to the law, counting it of no value, disregarding it, denying its authority, so Moo. "When we violate the royal law, the law of love, the law is in effect being judged, it is being disparaged", Hamann. As to what "law" James has in mind, he is probably thinking of the Torah, so Vlachos, but with particular reference the "law of love", "Christ's law of love", Barclay. Possibly the law in its essence, Blomberg.

ει + ind. "when [you judge the law]" - [but/and] if, as is the case, [you judge law, then ......]. Conditional clause 1st. class where the condition is assumed to be true for argument sake.

νομου [ος] gen. "[you are not keeping] it" - [you are not a doer] of law. The genitive is usually classified as verbal, objective, but adjectival, idiomatic may be more appropriate; "you are not a law-keeper", a person who does not carry out the law.

αλλα "but" - but [a judge]. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not ....., but .....".


James provides another reason why we shouldn't slander and malign a brother or sister, because there is only one person who has the right as "lawgiver and judge", the one who is able to both "save" and "to destroy both the soul and body in hell", Matt.10:28. "In setting oneself up as judge, one has usurped the role of God", Davids.

εἷς adj. "[there is] one" - one [is the lawgiver and judge]. Predicated nominative.

ὁ δυναμενος [δυναμαι] pres. pas./mid part. "the one who is able" - the one being able. The participle serves as a substantive standing in apposition to "one lawgiver and judge"; "he who is able to save and to destroy", ESV.

σωσαι [σωζω] aor. inf. "to save" - to save [and destroy]. As with "to destroy", the infinitive is complementary, completing the verbal sense of the participle "being able."

δε "but" - but [who are you]. Here adversative, as NIV.

ὁ κρινων [κρινω] pres. pas. part. "to judge" - the one judging [the = your neighbor]. The participle serves as a substantive standing in apposition to "you". "Who do you think you are meddling in the destiny of others", Peterson.


James Introduction



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